THE BLOG
09/03/2010 02:09 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Jewish New Year: A New Approach to Philanthropy

When we head home for Rosh Hashanah, we can be sure of one thing: we will eat. And eat. And eat some more.

It was astonishing when one of us, during our summer in rural Kenya, stayed with a small but fiery mother of six named Theresia Mavela who demanded, "Eat, eat, my daughter, eat!" The handfuls of leafy green vegetables, cassava, and maize meal known as ugali, seemed endless. The truth was just the opposite. In that same room, eight other children shared food from one bowl. Theresia's generosity and insistence on eating more and more was like our Jewish mothers' constant nagging -- we could never eat enough.

In reality, she did not have the food to spare. Just like anywhere in the world, it is remarkable what we can learn about others while breaking bread, or sharing a bowl of ugali. And in a community where food is scarce -- four children died at the beginning of the year from starvation in this impoverished village -- her generosity was unimaginable.

We are proud to be Jewish. We feel this way because Jews are generous and have learned from the deeply powerful traditions of tzedakah. Museums and schools have been built on this generosity. Charitable organizations have reached millions of Jews and non-Jews alike through our belief in tikkun olam (repairing the world).

These values, imparted through our families, schools and communities, led us to careers in international development. We are part of a team that leads ThinkImpact, an organization based in Washington, D.C. that reaches the poorest of the poor in rural Africa, and we believe that it is time for Jews everywhere to rethink their philanthropy.

It is a new year. This Rosh Hashanah, commit to asking the tough questions and rejecting aid that promotes dependence. Generosity is not solving the problem that Theresia's children face in Kenya. It is also not beating back the scourge of malaria, HIV or inadequate education. Sadly, for all the generosity in the world, there remain three billion people in grave poverty. One billion of them can't drink a glass of clean water.

It is against this backdrop of inefficiency that we have committed to a new direction for poverty alleviation. Founded in 2003, we are now in our seventh year -- our jubilee year, our year of renewal -- and we believe that it's time for market-driven approaches to poverty alleviation.

The market can be a powerful force for good. As social entrepreneur Earl Phelan once noted, in the non-profit sector, "Profit is power." Organizations that seek to address societal ills through top-down solutions are providing unsustainable support to individuals while creating dependence. A market-driven approach offers incentives to individuals thereby naturally inviting more buy-in, leading to sustainability and even positive growth. The risks inherent in creating new enterprises are dealt with quickly, and long-term dependence or despondency does not follow; rather, like with any entrepreneur, challenges may excite the next great idea.

ThinkImpact is a leader in the cutting-edge field of social entrepreneurship, and believes in the power of social business to eradicate poverty. Through ThinkImpact's programs, young social entrepreneurs are provided with the most effective vehicle through which to build high impact, sustainable social businesses that empower community members in rural villages in Africa. To achieve this, we provide loans, financial literacy training and business support to community members, and the possibility of a better life through enterprises that serve a social function.

To combat hunger in Kenya we are building a social business run by local women that will sell small drip irrigation kits to community members. With these kits, subsistence farmers will be able to grow enough crops to feed themselves and their families during the leaner months.

As this year comes to a close a new one begins. As we consider our role in the world, we must act as a united community, ready to challenge our traditional approaches to philanthropy. It is our obligation as the Jewish people to give future generations a world more peaceful, more secure and more just than that which we inherited from our parents and grandparents. It is our responsibility to ensure that there is food on every table -- enough so we can all enjoy.

Support ThinkImpact and other organizations that are leveraging the market and community assets to reduce global poverty. Join us in making this New Year one that is sweet for our entire human family.

For more information, visit www.thinkimpact.org, email info@thinkimpact.org or call 202-657-6616.

Rachel Gordon contributed to this article.